The Gradual week 1

1

Summary - Chapters 1-6)

  1. We are given a brief intro to our character. He is a musician, composer, sometimes criminal and fugitive, and later 'an inadvertent traveller in time'. We are introduced to the concept of 'the gradual' - at least empirically speaking. The gradual is a process that, like ageing, unfolds too slowly to notice most of the time. Music and Warfare are to be constant themes of his life.
  2. Our character is introduced as Alessandro Susskin. He tells us of his childhood in costal Errest, a provincial industrial city in Glaund with what was once a significant arts scene. His father was a first violinist with the philharmonic, and his mother a touring opera singer. Both put their careers on hold when the war closed the scene. They took to teaching. Sandro is a violinist and pianist, but also plays guitar and recorder and composes. His brother Jacj is also a violinist, but hopes to become a lawyer if he can avoid the draft. Sandro tells us about how one day he climbed into the attic and from there spotted his first islands. These made an indelible impression on his life, and he began to dream.
  3. And agreement is made between Glaund and Faiandland to move the theatre of war to the south continent. That means that local bombing will cease, but warfare will continue. When Jacj turns 18, he is drafted into service. His parents try to convince him to hide in the mountains to the north, but he declines. His plan is to observe and document the war, which he considers illegal, and to make a legal case against it on his return. Shortly after he receives the letter, he boards a grey bus and departs.
  4. Sandro takes a job with a munitions manufacturer at the age of 16. This work allows him to avoid the draft. He spends the next 11 years gets his first recital, a landscape inspired peace called Breath which he performs with his friend, Alynna Rosson, on violin. He himself plays piano. After the recital, both are moved to tears, but for very different reasons. He is pleased, but she is very upset by the pauses in the music, which were marked red in the score and left her feeling alone. She leaves abruptly, declining to perform it again.
  5. Now in his thirties, Sandro has a chance to offer a piece to a record company for a compilation album. They agree to take a chamber piece called Dianme, which is inspired by a local offshore island and it's mythology. The piece is published to little local acclaim.
  6. Sandro sends another piece, Tidal Symbols, to the record company and they agree to record it. He travels to Glaund City for the recording and once again meets Alynna. Many years have passed and this time they hit it off. He also meets a composer named Denn Mytrie from the island of Muriseay, here on cultural exchange. Denn's piece will be on the other side of the album. Denn seems to be an admirer of Sandro's piece, Dianme, and tells him it has been receiving radio play in the islands. Not only will Denn and Sandro become friends, but four months later Sandro marries Alynna.

Discussion

  • Based on the first few sections, are you feeling a warming trend or a cold front toward the novel?
  • There are some familiar setting elements. The nature of this war seems to have varied a bit from story to story, but Priest sets up this specific variation up front. The artists don't seem to be the destructive individuals they are in The Islanders, but time will tell, I assume.
  • Why do you think Alynna was moved so by the performance of Breath?
  • In the opening section, Sandro tells us about the ultimate fate of many people. Why? Does it bother you?
  • The marriage - why has Priest chosen to write about it this way, do you think?

Comments

  • 0

    I was struck by the term "Gradual" which I had been curious about before starting the book. Knowing now that the main character is a musician I looked it up, and The Gradual is a traditional sung part of the Catholic Mass. It is so-called from the Latin gradus (a step) as it was delivered from a raised step between congregation and altar. It routinely consisted of a portion delivered by a celebrant, and some responses provided by the congregation at key points. As a side-note (haha) the psalms commonly called "Psalms of Ascent" in modern Bibles were also called gradual psalms, as they were delivered in a series of steps on the way up to Jerusalem.

    Will that matter in CP's narrative? I'm guessing yes, though with his penchant for inverting concepts I'm expecting that the responses that Sandro expects from his audiences won't be there, or that maybe there'll be a series of steps down rather than up. We have already seen this in his difficulties getting his music accepted, even amongst musicians such as Alynna.

    This habit of inversion can also, I believe, be seen in Alynna's rejection of Breath in that she cannot come to terms with the idea that the pauses in the music are (in certain respects) more important than the notes. There are shades here, perhaps, of Ursula LeGuin's "Only in silence the word". Or like the old dichotomy about driving cars - do we stop at service stations and fill up with petrol so we can drive about, or drive about so we can stop at service stations?

    I was slightly taken aback by the casual skipping over of so many years, from mid teens to early 30s. I had expected the draft, and his avoidance of it, to be more prominent, as it was for Jacq. I had expected the munitions job to fail in some way, and that he would be forced into the draft at the very point he felt himself safe. But no.

    The meeting with Denn I found interesting and credible - his music may well get more traction in The Archipelago than in his homeland.

    The marriage to Alynna - a four month courtship at that stage of life for two people who had not hit it off successfully at first? It didn't feel credible to me, but I suppose it will end in tears at some stage. So far that relational aspect of the book has seemed the most bizarre.

    The short opening chapter, with some long-time-span indications of what's happening - I quite like that as an authorial ploy. It means that you are focusing on how people get to their endpoint, rather than what the endpoint might be, and can be used very successfully.

    In summary, I am enjoying the setup of this book and am definitely on the "warming trend" side of your choice.

  • 1

    Some of the now-familiar motifs are here again: the viewpoint character as an artist (this time a composer, instead of a painter or tunneller), being an outsider to the Archipelago, the war, the lack of information about the Archipelago. But this time the restricted information seems down to censorship more than anything else.

    I suspect that confusion over Sandro's name will become important later.

    The love affair with Alynna was terse, to the extent that she's still a cipher. I wonder if I'll care about her as a character? At least it seems to be a healthy relationship, unlike many we've seen!

    @RichardAbbott , interesting notes on the use of "Gradual" as a type of sacred music!

  • 1
    Although not explicitly said, my thought was that the ‘pauses’ in the composition represented people lost in war to Alynna, emphasized by the red notation, and that’s what disturbed her.

    I wonder if we’ll see much of her. My impression was that this book was mainly about the lead character travelling through the islands, and I had figured this would be mainly a solo ( rather than a couple’s ) journey. So I’m guessing she dies or leaves him fairly early, or if not she’ll be off-scene. We shall see.

    Interesting connection re: the music - something to keep an eye on. Do musical gradual change so slowly you don’t notice?
  • 0

    Well, this got me looking for some samples of gregorian chant graduals online, and I found several quite quickly:

    From the Mass for Christmas Day

    From the Mass for the Dead

    And those who are feeling especially heroic can find a liturgy for the whole year https://media.musicasacra.com/books/plainchant_gradual_1-2.pdf

    The notation looks (to my untutored eyes) related to but not identical to regular musical notation with clefs - I suppose (and maybe @clash_bowley knows a whole lot more) that it is showing relative pitch rather than an absolute note pitch, so that the same pattern could be sung by people with different voices?

  • 1
    edited August 25

    How did you know I read music, Richard? Most non-classical musicians don't! This is interesting! The position of the notes on the staff indicate pitch. There is no key signature, no accidentals in the song, so you could potentially sing it in any key, but I think each chant had a particular key. The ties on the stems are links, showing that the syllable is held and slurred, and the notes have definite duration like modern notation, even to dotted notes. Medieval chant was sung in unison and there is no harmony, so I am not sure the function of those notes that look doubled on the staff. I could follow it with no problem, so obviously modern notation evolved directly from this.

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:
    Discussion

    • Based on the first few sections, are you feeling a warming trend or a cold front toward the novel?

    Too little yet to tell.

    • There are some familiar setting elements. The nature of this war seems to have varied a bit from story to story, but Priest sets up this specific variation up front. The artists don't seem to be the destructive individuals they are in The Islanders, but time will tell, I assume.
    • Why do you think Alynna was moved so by the performance of Breath?

    I really have no idea. Alynna seems a cypher to me as of yet.

    • In the opening section, Sandro tells us about the ultimate fate of many people. Why? Does it bother you?

    Not at all. Many authors use this device.

    • The marriage - why has Priest chosen to write about it this way, do you think?

    I really don't know. I have no clue as to the character of Alynna yet. Sandro seems besotted by her, so it will probably end in desolation and ruin.

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:
    Interesting connection re: the music - something to keep an eye on. Do musical gradual change so slowly you don’t notice?

    i'm not sure if that's a joke I didn't get, but the meanings seem to be "step, walk, ascend (stairs or a ladder)" to "change in increments" to "change slowly", with the latter two meanings coming in after the Middle Ages.

    In any case, Wikipedia suggests that the modern term "Gradual" may be a corruption of the original term "gradate" meaning "Distinguished". So who knows?

  • 1
    edited August 27

    Graduate (to finish a course of study or endeavor and begin a new level), graduation (marks of level, as graduations on a cylinder), gradual (to change over time), gradation (a ramp or incline, or a change from one thing to another in steps), grade (a step or level, or a slope), etc. are all words associated with levels or steps. The musical gradual changes pitch in levels or steps over time. These words are closely related.

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